This article appears in the February 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit Lou.com.
The Army is at least partly responsible for Bruce and Courtney Lake opening a cafe downtown in the East End city of Anchorage. The two avid cooks and devotees of celebrity chefs met at Fort Knox in the late ’80s, when Bruce was training as a tank officer and Courtney was fulfilling ROTC duties as a finance officer. “Our first date was at Jack Fry’s,” Bruce Lake told me in a recent phone conversation. “There was not much to do in Radcliff.”
They were living in Connecticut in 2009 when his wife accepted a job at Humana, where she still works. “We didn’t move down here to open a cafe,” Lake says. “But we talked to people in the community, went to town meetings. People told us they wanted a casual alternative in Anchorage.” In April 2010, the couple took the plunge and opened the Anchorage Cafe. Last June, they brought in executive chef Andrew Myers, who said in a separate conversation that he “didn’t even know where Anchorage was” while he was executive chef at Bellini’s in Lexington.
The building is a split-level, the only new structure in the small city’s redesigned commercial center, and it emulates a train depot, sitting across from the Village Anchor. The main floor’s counter, with glass cases displaying baked goods underneath large chalkboards with the day’s menu and specials, also has a spacious barista section and shelves holding bags of roasted beans. A line of stools along another countertop fronts a staircase descending to the restaurant’s lower level, where I was able to sample what has become an effort to bring local and seasonal dining to Anchorage.
“We didn’t really set out to do a farm-to-table thing,” Lake told me. “We wanted to become a hangout.” And the restaurant is a comfortable place to linger, its lower level an expanse of widely spaced dark tables, chairs and banquettes, with free Wi-Fi and friendly staff encouraging long stays. As the Lakes and Myers became more familiar with the area, they expanded local offerings through breakfast, lunch, and small plates a few evenings each week. During breakfast, my chicken biscuit ($6.25) featured a chicken breast from Marksbury Farm in Lancaster, Ky., expertly coated with panko breadcrumbs, its crust blending nicely with the buttery and crisp chive biscuit and creamy mustard sauce. My cooked-to-order egg sandwich ($5.50 with choice of meat) had its rich yolk ooze into the chewy interior of a locally made pretzel roll that surrounded a thick slab of spicy house-made chorizo.
On a lunch visit, I enjoyed another pretzel roll and more Marksbury products, the roll on my chicken sandwich ($8.50) serving as a sturdy platform for a tenderly roasted breast made savory with a slice of country ham and spicy-tart with a chiffonade of fresh arugula. Unfortunately, a gamy and salty Barren County Bleu cheese, from Kenny’s Farmhouse in Austin, Ky., overpowered the chicken salad ($7.50), and while the pickled peppers on my meatball hero sandwich ($8.50) were tart, the mushy meatballs were salty and covered in a too-sweet sauce.
Myers’ skills (and growing connections to local suppliers) are most evident Thursday through Saturday evenings with small plates. The charcuterie ($9) featured rolls of Marksbury mortadella slices — not as smooth as their Italian counterparts but just as delicious — plus mild country ham prosciutto, along with macerated cherries, candied nuts, crisp house-made brioche toast made by pastry chef Loryn Kipp, and a selection of spicy mustards. Roasted Brussels sprouts ($6) were soft and salted with a reasonable amount of the aforementioned Kenny’s Bleu. A winter salad strove mightily to bring freshness to the cold season, but the delicate squash rounds and tender Bibb lettuce could have used another element of crunch coupled with the tart vinaigrette. The small-plate champ on my evening visit was an exquisitely baked pot of macaroni and smoked cipollini onions ($8), a fabulous combination of breadcrumbs, baked cheese crust, smoke, sweetness, meaty mushrooms, salt and just the right touch of oil. A chilled chocolate mousse ($4) topped with coffee crumble was a rich ending.
Initially, the cafe changed its menu every week before settling on the one I sampled over the winter. This spring, Myers said, offerings will change “biweekly or monthly” because “people should be able to tell their friends about something they liked, or maybe have something twice.” Myers told me at the time of my visits that, as a newcomer, he was “still relying on Lexington” for food but said he was excited about the local farmers he’s already met and is happy to be located within range of even more products. “I plan on trying to develop as many relationships this winter as possible, getting to know as many farmers as I can,” he said.
Lake, for his part, is looking forward to that. “If you’re off the beaten path,” he said, “you have to create something that’s a destination.”
Photo Courtesy: John Nation